Last Thursday’s announcement that Shea Weber underwent arthroscopic knee surgery came as a shock to everyone trying to put last season behind them, and look forward to next season with optimism. Sure Weber was recovering from foot surgery, but he was going to be back in time for the start of the season. This latest news potentially crushes that optimistic bubble, with people bracing for another challenging season without the Canadiens top defenseman. We saw a team without Shea Weber last season, and results were not encouraging.
Real talk: nobody will replace Weber, but Jeff Petry will be tasked with playing those top pairing minutes again, and hopefully he will continue to perform well.
But as a result of Petry moving up to the top pairing, there is some back-fill required on the right side of the defence on the second pairing. Where there is adversity, there is also opportunity. I certainly don’t believe that Marc Bergevin will trade for a temporary replacement, so expect to hear the well-worn “the answer is in the room” when questions are asked about how the team will address to this latest setback.
And he will be right. Based on Bergevin’s off-season moves, plenty of players will be given the chance to step up and earn a spot, and that’s the mantra of any professional, isn’t it? “Give me a chance and I’ll show you what I can do.”
Here are some other players who could benefit from the trickle down effect.
Most likely to benefit from the opening is 2016 first round pick Noah Juulsen. Despite missing half of his rookie season, Juulsen managed to establish himself among the best defencemen in Laval, and quickly earned himself a call-up to Montreal to finish off the season, playing 23 games and averaging nearly 20 minutes per game.
While starting the season on the top defensive pairing in Laval would have probably been in the plans for Juulsen, it’s hard to argue that anyone else in the organization is better suited to step in and replace Petry on the second pairing than Juulsen.
Entering his fourth professional season, Brett Lernout is getting to that point in his development where he has to really make his mark in the organization if he hopes to become an NHL regular.
While Juulsen could replace Petry in terms of style and deployment, Lernout is more similar to Weber physically, and provides a no-nonsense presence on the back-end. He also capable of a booming slap shot from the point, but as of yet has struggled to put it all together.
If anyone could stand to rehabilitate their reputation with the fanbase it’s Jordie Benn. He arrived in Montreal in a trade for Greg Pateryn a couple of seasons ago, and immediately looked like a solid addition to the squad, and a bottom pairing anchor with Nathan Beaulieu.
Last season he was mainly paired with Joe Morrow and the pairing struggled. After Morrow was traded, Benn found himself switched to the left side in a pairing with Lernout, and also some big minutes with Petry towards the end.
He has said numerous times that he would prefer to play on the right side, so the opportunity to make his case is well within his reach.
Moravcik is really the big unknown in this entire equation, which is to his advantage because he will have no pressure going into preseason, and stands to gain the most from a solid camp. He is another left-handed player, like Benn, who prefers to play on the right, but is polyvalent enough to play on both sides.
Moravcik (as well as Sklenicka) remains one of the more interesting pieces headed into the new season, and may cause a surprise if he makes the team out of camp. If he does, it will cause a ripple effect throughout the defensive depth. What may work against both Moravicik and Sklenicka is that they do not require waivers, which might make the decision, somewhat easier.
If anyone stands to benefit from the depth all shifting up it’s Cale Fleury, who is either eligible to play an overage season in the WHL, or start his professional career in the AHL without burning a year off of a entry-level contract. With Juulsen or Lernout starting the season in the NHL, there is suddenly an opening available for a right-handed defenceman in Laval. It’s not a position of particular depth, as the other right-handed defencemen options are veteran Maxim Lamarche and T.J. Melancon, both AHL-contracted players.
The worst thing for a rookie is to not get ice-time in the AHL, and face long drawn-out periods of being a healthy scratch, like Simon Bourque last season. Fleury should not be too concerned with that next season. By the time December rolls around and Weber returns to the line-up the organization will have a better idea what to make of Fleury, who might make a strong case to remain with the team.
CANADIENS DEFENSIVE FORECAST
- Victor Mete - Jeff Petry
- Karl Alzner - Noah Juulsen
- Mike Reilly - Jordie Benn
- David Schlemko - Brett Lernout